Quotulatiousness

October 28, 2014

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

[...]

What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 13, 2014

Russian media’s favourite German professor

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:59

Professor Lorenz Haag is frequently invited to provide a German opinion for Russian consumption — opinions that amazingly co-incide very well with those of the Russian government. There’s only one problem with Professor Haag: he appears to have been fabricated specifically to fulfil that role.

German Professor Lorenz Haag is what you’d call a Kremlin apologist.

Russian media regularly quotes him as praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, defending Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and urging the West to take a softer line toward Moscow.

“Professor” Haag, however, is by all accounts no professor.

And the organization he allegedly heads, the German “Agency for Global Communications,” has also been denounced as bogus.

Dmitry Khmelnitsky, a noted Russian architectural historian based in Berlin, was the first to cast doubt on the purported academic’s credentials.

“Professor Lorenz Haag, the head of the Agency for Global Communications, exists only in the imagination of ITAR-TASS correspondents who have interviewed him regularly and for many years in the capacity of ‘German expert,'” Khmelnitsky wrote in an October 6 post on Facebook. “There is no such professor in Germany. And no such agency.”

Khmelnitsky’s allegations have sparked intense speculation on the Russian Internet about Haag’s identity, motives, or even existence.

According to Russian blogger Pavel Gnilorybov, the state-run ITAR-TASS agency — which recently reverted to its Soviet-era name TASS — created the fictitious professor back in 2007.

October 10, 2014

Reason.tv – The 5 Most Anti-Libertarian TV Shows Ever!

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:57

Published on 10 Oct 2014

A little while ago, we tallied up “The 5 Best Libertarian TV Shows.” South Park, Penn & Teller: Bullshit, The Wire, The Prisoner, House of Cards: They’re all there, along with your abuse in the comments for leaving out Firefly, Yes, Minister, King of the Hill, and all your other favorites.

Now it’s time to list the five TV shows that are the absolute *worst* from a libertarian perspective.

October 8, 2014

QotD: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe media encoding

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

[...]

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 5, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson riles up Argentinian car fans

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

For a change, it isn’t anything he said:

Top Gear‘s crew has had to abandon their cars at the roadside and flee Argentina after being pelted with stones. The incident happened after it emerged they were using a vehicle with a number plate that apparently refers to the Falklands War.

A Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982, was among those abandoned. BBC bosses have said the number plate was merely a coincidence and was not chosen deliberately, but it led to protests in Argentina, including a demonstration by a group of war veterans who protested outside the hotel used by the show team.

[...]

The executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, said: “Top Gear production purchased three cars for a forthcoming programme; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate, or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.”

Even if Wilman is dissembling about the license plate … just how flipping sensitive do you have to be to object to a sort-of abbreviation, in a foreign language, in the characters on a license plate? Who would ordinarily notice or care what the license plate may or may not hint at, unless someone is busy trying to stir up trouble? That said, Top Gear thrives on controversy, so it’s quite possible that they hoped they’d draw some attention, but probably not to the extent of being forced out of the country.

Update: Clarkson is now accusing the Argentine government of setting a trap for the Top Gear film crew.

The presenter was said to have infuriated locals by driving through South America in a Porsche with the numberplate H982 FKL, seen as a goading reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.

However, Clarkson said the plate was “not the issue” — he claimed it was an unfortunate coincidence and that he removed it two days into the trip — and blamed the state government for orchestrating an ambush by mobs armed with pickaxe handles, paving stones and bricks.

“There is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap,” Clarkson said.

“We were English (apart from one Aussie camera guy and a Scottish doctor” and that was a good enough reason for the state government to send 29 people into a night filled with rage and flying bricks.”

He claimed the crew were “plainly herded into an ambush” and said: “Make no mistake, lives were at stake.”

[...]

The team were confronted at their hotel by a group claiming to be war veterans.

“Richard Hammond, James May and I bravely hid under the beds in a researcher’s room while protesters went through the hotel looking for us,” Clarkson said.

They then fled by plane to Buenos Aires — having “rounded up the girls” on the team — leaving the rest of their crew behind.

The crew were forced to make a gruelling six-hour trek to the Chilean border, abandoning the Porsche and their camera equipment at the side of the road.

October 1, 2014

The CRTC tries bully boy tactics to stay vaguely relevant in the 21st century

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:08

Richard Anderson perfectly captures the scene as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) attempts to browbeat Netflix into “voluntary” compliance with its (possibly extra-legal) demands:

Caudilho Jean-Pierre Blais of the CRTC actually ordered Netflix to hand over their confidential information. Acting as if he was a judge in a criminal trial instead of a busybody interfering with a successful business that is violating no one’s rights. It’s questionable as to whether the CRTC even has the legal power to make such a request. Netflix is not a broadcaster in any traditional sense of the word. The story behind the story is that a Trudeau-era regulatory framework is running smack up against the modern world.

With technology speeding past the CRTC Mandarins they are confronted with three options: 1) Acquiesce and watch as time turns them into a medieval guild during the industrial revolution. 2) Lobby the government to explicitly expand their powers over the internet. 3) Say to hell with the rule of law and see what they can get away with.

Option 1 ain’t happening because too many cushy jobs are at stake. Option 2 ain’t happening because the Tories may not understand capitalism but they don’t actively hate it. This leave us with option 3. As you can tell it is by far and away the worst option. This isn’t just a bad for consumers story it’s a bad for freedom story as well.

At the moment much of the media is focused on the pick and pay cable model debate. But the debate is little more than a statist three card monte trick, the government’s crude attempt to legislate business into behaving like what they think a free market should look like. The future, however, is being decided in the Netflix case.

September 24, 2014

Megan McArdle’s The Daily Show coping strategies

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:53

Should you ever be given the opportunity to appear on The Daily Show and for whatever reason you don’t immediately change your name and move to Bolivia, Megan McArdle has some advice for you:

  1. Don’t.
  2. If you must, bring two tape recorders, a video camera and a witness. Announce at the beginning that you are going to record this and reserve the right to release the entire recording to the public. When they tell you that they will not do the interview under those conditions, prepare to leave. There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don’t want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool.
  3. They may attempt to get you to stay by explaining that recording will interfere with their equipment. This is the point where you whip the video camera out of your bag and helpfully offer to videotape the interview instead. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be alone in a room with the producers and no recording device.
  4. Seriously, don’t go on The Daily Show. They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose. There is a reason that you have never seen a video clip of someone who “beat” Jon Stewart — or Bill O’Reilly, or any other host of a show that pits professional interviewers against ordinary subjects. It’s the same reason you haven’t seen clips of ordinary folks beating Evander Holyfield: They are really good at this, and what they are good at is making you look like a stubborn moron who couldn’t find his backside with both hands in the dark.

[...]

The only reason for you to go on television is for your family to see you being on television, except that in this case, what your family is going to see is you being profoundly embarrassed on television. There is no way that this ends well. Stay home and watch The Daily Show instead; it’s really funny as long as you’re not the target of the joke.

September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts and the foundation of the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

Amity Shlaes on the recent Ken Burns documentary on Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt:

“He is at once God and their intimate friend,” wrote journalist Martha Gellhorn back in the 1930s of President Franklin Roosevelt. The quote comes from The Roosevelts, the new Ken Burns documentary that PBS airs this month. But the term “documentary” doesn’t do The Roosevelts justice. “Extravaganza” is more like it: In not one but 14 lavish hours, the series covers two great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who served in the first decade of the last century, and Franklin Roosevelt, who led our nation through the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. In his use of the plural, Burns correctly includes a third Roosevelt: Eleanor, who as first lady also affected policy, along with her spouse.

[...]

Absent, however, from the compelling footage is any display of the negative consequences of Rooseveltian action. The premise of Theodore Roosevelt’s trustbusting was that business was too strong. The opposite turned out to be true when, bullied by TR, the railroads promptly collapsed in the Panic of 1907. In the end it fell to TR’s very target, J. P. Morgan, to organize the rescue on Wall Street.

The documentary also neglects to mention that the economy of the early 1920s proved likewise fragile — casualty, in part, to President Woodrow Wilson’s fortification of TR’s progressive policies. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge poured their own energy into halting the expansion of an imperial presidency and sustaining the authority of the states. This endeavor, anti-progressive, also won approbation: In 1920, the Harding-Coolidge ticket beat Cox-Roosevelt. The result of the Harding-Coolidge style of presidency was genuine and enormous prosperity. The 1920s saw the arrival of automobiles, indoor toilets, and the very radios that FDR would later use so effectively to his advantage. Joblessness dropped; the number of new patents soared. TR had enjoyed adulation, but so did his mirror opposite, the refrainer Coolidge.

When it comes to the 1930s, such twisting of the record becomes outright distortion. By his own stated goal, that of putting people to work, Roosevelt failed. Joblessness remained above 10 percent for most of the decade. The stock market did not come back. By some measures, real output passed 1929 levels monetarily in the mid 1930s only to fall back into a steep depression within the Depression. As George Will comments, “the best of the New Deal programs was Franklin Roosevelt’s smile.” The recovery might have come sooner had the smile been the only New Deal policy.

So great is Burns’s emphasis on the Roosevelt dynasty that William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover come away as mere seat warmers in the White House. Especially puzzling is the neglect of TR’s progressive heirs, Taft and Wilson, who, after all, set the stage for FDR. This omission can be explained only by Burns’s desire to cement the reign of the Roosevelts. On the surface, the series’ penchant for grandees might seem benign, like the breathless coverage of Princess Kate’s third trimester in People magazine. In this country, elevating presidential families is a common habit of television producers; the Kennedys as dynasty have enjoyed their share of airtime. Still, Burns does go further than the others, ennobling the Roosevelts as if they were true monarchs, gods almost, as in Martha Gellhorn’s above mentioned line. Burns equates progressive policy with the family that promulgates it. And when Burns enthrones the Roosevelts, he also enthrones their unkingly doctrine, progressivism.

September 18, 2014

The Cosmos reboot “flatter[s] the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp”

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

I didn’t watch the original Cosmos TV series, but I’ve heard retrospective rave reviews of the original show. I also haven’t watched any of the reboot, but Ace has, and he’s not impressed at all:

More Tyson “quotes” that serve no purpose except to stroke his own ego while he simultaneously strokes the egos of his fanbois and fangurlz.

I was taken aback by the first episode of the Cosmos reboot. That episode also contained, get this, a generally dishonest accounting of a mad monk named Giordani Bruno who challenged the prevailing theory that the sun was singular in the heavens in its possession of a planetary system.

That story was fable-ized — stripped of the complicated reality of truth, turned into a simplistic Aesop Fable for children — in order to flatter the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp while insulting anyone of even a mild religious disposition.

This is quite jackass, if you assume that the show’s creators actually wanted to evangelize for science among those who had come to distrust science. The show began by making things up in order to denigrate those who distrust science — certainly not evangelizing them to join Team Science at all.

[...]

But this approach does make sense if one assumes their stated motivations for the show (evangelize for science among the “science pagans,” if you will) were not their real motivations.

It makes sense if you assume their actual motivation was to tell the Science Flock that They’re Awesome and that the people who do not believe in The God Science are apes and monkeys.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s position grants him power; it also imposes on him responsibility. I would never myself have nominated what is essentially a planetarium manager as Head of Science of the Western World; but the I Love Science Sexually brigade, the fanbois and fangurlz, did, so this is what we have.

By Tyson’s own lights, is he actually popularizing science, or is making science look rather shabby and stupid by confusing actual science with its sorta-lookalike, “Science”?

I think the latter. He doesn’t seem to be talking about science; he’s talking about “Science,” which is not an intellectual discipline, but a tribal signifier and I Win Button for stupid internet political arguments.

Update:

Update the second: Sean Davis wonders “Why Is Wikipedia Deleting All References To Neil Tyson’s Fabrication?”

Judging by many of the responses to the three pieces I wrote detailing Neil Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes and embellishing stories (part 1, part 2, and part 3), you’d think I had defamed somebody’s god. It turns out that fanatical cultists do not appreciate being shown evidence that the object of their worship may not, in fact, be infallible.

Which brings us to Wikipedia. Oh, Wikipedia. After I published my piece about Neil Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote, several users edited Neil Tyson’s wiki page to include details of the quote fabrication controversy. The fact-loving, evidence-weighing, ever-objective editors of the online encyclopedia did not appreciate the inclusion of the evidence of Tyson’s fabrication. Not at all.

According to a review of the edit history of Tyson’s page, one long-time Wikipedia editor deleted an entire pending section summarizing the issue of Tyson’s fabricated quotes. Another editor attempted to insert a brief mention of Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote. That mention was also deleted. When it was reinserted, it was deleted yet again by an editor who describes himself as a childless progressive and an apostle of Daily Kos (h/t @kerpen). Here are just a few of that user’s political ramblings, in case you were curious about the motivation behind the scrubbing of Tyson’s wiki.

Literally every single mention of Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes has been removed from Tyson’s Wikipedia page.

September 13, 2014

Cinematic fights and actual hand-to-hand combat

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I almost always have issues watching sword fights in movies or on TV, because I know a little bit about how to use a sword. I’ve actually demonstrated to actors a few of the differences between what looks great on stage and what would happen if someone tried that flashy stage move in a real swordfight. I haven’t done any real training in unarmed combat, aside from a few brief introductory sessions in boxing, judo and Taekwondo as a youngster, but I’ve long suspected the same general rule applies to movie fisticuffs. Guest-blogging at Charles Stross’s blog, Tricia Sullivan says if anything I’m underestimating the unreality of TV/movie fighting:

In my first post of this series I said I would talk about the depiction of personal combat in contemporary media. What I find most interesting here is the tendency to conflate stage-fighting with real fighting, and I am particularly impressed by the foolishness of movie-makers — who are themselves illusionists — when they are tricked by the illusionism of the martial arts into thinking they are showing something ‘real’ when in fact they are showing a martial art with only a tangential relationship to fighting

[...]

In a high-stress situation where a lot of sensory information is coming in very fast, the visual cortex can’t keep up. The brain has to make a guess about what’s going to happen next based on your opponent’s position and the early ‘cue’ at the beginning of a movement. This guess is informed by your past fighting experience; the more fighting experience you have, the better the guess. To my knowledge, the current understanding is that the myelination in cortical areas dealing with sensory information and motor response are only layered through specific experience, and there’s science suggesting that with increased practice, visual tracking will still take place after the response is initiated, enabling an expert to deal with a late correction. This offers some explanation for how a great tennis player can return a seemingly impossible serve.

But the point is that all of these responses are happening below the level of conscious thought; in fact, conscious thought would interfere with the sensorimotor response. A fighter may have a general plan, and metacognitively they may be watching themselves in action–and they will surely be anticipating their opponent moment-by-moment based on what is known about how the other fighter has behaved so far. But fighters don’t set up and run an extended series of moves like this any more than Federer looks at Nadal and says to himself, ‘There can be no emotion. Place service so that opponent returns ball three inches from the line on left side of court. Be waiting there for return of serve. Return opponent’s forehand, run to net sticking racquet out at angle of 60 degrees to hit line shot into back left corner. Dive across net to meet return and cunningly place ball six inches out of reach.’ Just no.

Of course I’m exaggerating. A little. The thing is, this scene isn’t just some fluff used in a movie for fun. It’s representative of the way self-protection and martial arts are often taught, with a ‘you do this, I do that’ approach that centers on pulling the correct technique out of a hat in answer to an incoming technique, often in series. A fight is too holistic and it changes too dynamically to reduce it to a game of playing cards. The approach is misleading and movies like this only serve to reinforce the misinterpretation of what’s going on in a fight.

September 10, 2014

Katie Nolan – Why boycotting the NFL because of Ray Rice is not the answer

Filed under: Football, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

I haven’t watched the latest video of Ray Rice being an embarrassment to humankind, nor do I intend to. I think the NFL has made major errors in how they’ve handled the whole situation, and I don’t think it’s over yet, even with Rice out of football (because Rice is certainly not the only offender … he’s just the one we know the most about right now). Katie Nolan offers her insight into why the NFL still doesn’t understand how seriously they’ve fumbled this issue:

Update: USA Today‘s Christine Brennan reports on why the NFL did not act more strongly to the first video.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he never saw the elevator video of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee until Monday morning, but when he did, he found it “sickening,” he told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

He also said that Rice and his representatives told him a different story about what happened in the Atlantic City elevator than what he saw on the video. While he would not reveal those details, he called them “ambiguous.”

“There was no ambiguity when you saw that tape (Monday),” he said. “It was sickening. It was appalling. It was clear that it was not consistent with what they presented to us in the hearing and we needed to take the right step which is to indefinitely suspend him.”

Goodell said he and his staff saw the first video in February, the one in which Rice is seen dragging Janay Palmer’s listless body out of the elevator. They “suspected” there was another, and tried to obtain it.

“We asked for it on multiple occasions,” Goodell said. “We asked law enforcement and they were not willing to provide it. I think they were under some legal requirements not to provide it, as I understand it.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey state attorney general addressed on Tuesday the issue of why the video was not released to the NFL.

“It’s grand jury material. It would have been improper — in fact, illegal — for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office to provide it to an outside/private/non law-enforcement entity,” Paul Loriquet said, according to ABC News.

September 5, 2014

Casting blame over Rotherham

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:49

At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland unflinchingly points the finger of blame:

The English ‘fascist‘ movement is a bit like a bowel movement, smelly but easily disposed of. In truth they are so trivial in terms of their support or intellectual influence that I cannot escape the notion they get as much publicity as they do primarily to keep them as a boogieman to be pointed at by their equally irrelevant confrères on the loony left.

The Rotherham scandal is not about comically half witted and pleasingly unphotogenic fascists (sorry Ed Temple). It is not about Islam or Pakistanis (sorry BNP, EDL et al.). It is not even about immigration (sorry UKIP). It is entirely about how the political culture pushed unfailingly by the BBC and Guardian (and the increasingly indistinguishable Telegraph and other formerly ‘Tory’ papers) for decades has so completely enervated British institutions along with all the mainstream political parties, that such thugs could not be dealt with. We do not need more laws, we have more than enough to deal with what happened. What we need is the preposterous culture of political correctness and its obsession with race to be flushed down the toilet.

So my caring sharing multicultural leftie chums… Rotherham? That is entirely down to you. Yes, YOU

QotD: TV documentaries

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d be something worth watching: on the horrors of the Pacific or the Eastern Front, say; or castles; or Churchill; or medieval sword techniques. But now it’s all crap like The Hidden World of Georgian Needlecraft or In The Footsteps of Twelve Forgotten South American Civilisations Which All Look The Same or A Brooding, Long-Haired Scottish Geographer Shouts From Inside A Volcano Why Climate Change Is Worse Than Ever.

The presenters have got more annoying too. I mean, I’m not saying some of the old ones weren’t infuriating with their hand-waving and tics and mannerisms and wheezings. But the new ones are just vacuous, unformed squits. They make you yearn for a reverse Logan’s Run world, where everyone under 30 is executed for being so tiresome. A lot of them are women, obviously, chosen mainly for their simpering looks and charming speech impediments and unerring knack for fronting the dullest imaginable subject matter.

No doubt the people responsible for commissioning this drivel think they’re redressing the balance, in much the same way progressive historians do when they demand we empathise with medieval peasants rather than learning about what Edward I did to the Welsh and the Scots. Well, I can’t speak for all oppressed women here, but I think I can for my wife. They’re not going, ‘Oh, good. Finally a documentary with my name on it, about what it was like to be a woman’s maidservant in Elizabethan York.’ They’re going, ‘Who is that irritating little cow? Why is she on the screen putting on that little-girl-lost voice for my husband? And why the hell isn’t this documentary about something actually interesting, like, say, castles, or Churchill or medieval sword techniques?’

James Delingpole, “The glories of John Betjeman. And why we need more English eccentrics – eg me – on TV”, JamesDelingpole.com, 2014-09-04.

September 4, 2014

The new absolutism

Filed under: Environment, Liberty, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

Brendan O’Neill on the rise of the absolutist mindset in science:

Who do you think said the following: “I always regret it when knowledge becomes controversial. It’s clearly a bad thing, for knowledge to be controversial.” A severe man of the cloth, perhaps, keen to erect a forcefield around his way of thinking? A censorious academic rankled when anyone criticises his work? Actually, it was Brian Cox, Britain’s best-known scientist and the BBC’s go-to guy for wide-eyed documentaries about space. Yes, terrifyingly, this nation’s most recognisable scientist thinks it is a bad thing when knowledge becomes the subject of controversy, which is the opposite of what every man of reason in modern times has said about knowledge.

Mr Cox made his comments in an interview with the Guardian. Discussing climate change, he accused “nonsensical sceptics” of playing politics with scientific fact. He helpfully pointed out what us non-scientific plebs are permitted to say about climate change. “You’re allowed to say, well I think we should do nothing. But what you’re not allowed to do is to claim there’s a better estimate of the way that the climate will change, other than the one that comes out of the computer models.” Well, we are allowed to say that, even if we’re completely wrong, because of a little thing called freedom of speech. Mr Cox admits that his decree about what people are allowed to say on climate change springs from an absolutist position. “The scientific view at the time is the best, there’s nothing you can do that’s better than that. So there’s an absolutism. It’s absolutely the best advice.”

It’s genuinely concerning to hear a scientist — who is meant to keep himself always open to the process of falsifiabilty — describe his position as absolutist, a word more commonly associated with intolerant religious leaders. But then comes Mr Cox’s real blow against full-on debate. “It’s clearly a bad thing, for knowledge to be controversial”, he says. This is shocking, and the opposite of the truth. For pretty much the entire Enlightenment, the reasoned believed that actually it was good — essential, in fact — for knowledge to be treated as controversial and open to the most stinging questioning.

August 30, 2014

No lose betting – predictions in the media

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:55

Back in 2010, Dan Gardner pointed out that the “risky” business of making predictions to the media is actually a no-lose proposition almost all the time:

We’re coming to the end of the year and the pundits are lining up to tell us what’s going to happen in the one to follow. And why not? People want to hear predictions. And for the expert, there’s no way he can lose. If the prediction hits, he can boast about it and reporters will cite it as proof of his wisdom. But if it misses, no one will ever hear about it again.

Heads, I win. Tails, you forget we had a bet.

Of course the rules of the game would be a little different if, at the end of the year, instead of asking for new predictions, we looked back at what was predicted to happen in the year ending. Think of it as holding people to account for the predictions they make.

So let’s get on with the humiliation.

Whoah! Did I write that? I meant “fair and judicious review of past predictions.” Or, as this exercise might more accurately be described, “a bunch of predictions presented in no particular order and selected for no reason other than that they made me smile.”

Another example of the subtle workings of Gell-Mann Amnesia (although a variant of the phenomenon).

H/T to Bryan Caplan for the (retweeted Stephen Pinker) link.

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